In Cooler Weather, Sparks Literally Fly!

It’s fall in Florida! Our chillier-than-normal “season” might be short-lived, but that’s all the more reason to embrace it. Floridians are certainly taking advantage of this nice weather by enjoying toasty drinks, rocking their coziest sweaters, and spending time outside. One thing that isn’t so great about fall in Florida, though, is the static electricity that comes with cooler temperatures!

Shockingly Good Weather

Usually, words like “electric” and “shock” have deadly connotations, but static shocks are very common. And though they can be startling and momentarily painful, they’re generally not dangerous. In fact, static is around us pretty much all the time. Static electricity occurs when electrons move from one surface to another. If both surfaces are insulators, or materials that electrically isolate a charge, an electric charge builds up. Then, when one of the objects comes into contact with a conductor— a material that permits a flow of energy — the electric charge neutralizes itself. This neutralization is what causes the shock. For example, when someone walks across their carpet while wearing rubber-soled sneakers, static electricity builds up. But since the rubber in the shoes in an insulator, the charge has nowhere to go. That is, until that person touches their metal doorknob.

While this can happen in any weather, cold weather tends to make life extra static-y. This is because cooler weather means turning on the heat, which sucks the moisture out of the air and causes electrons to build up. It’s also because dry and cool weather causes the charges to cling more, increasing the chances of a shock.

Electric shock hurts, but it generally isn’t going to cause an injury. One place that electric shock can actually be dangerous, though, is at the gas station. Gasoline is highly flammable, easily ignited by the tiniest spark. This includes sparks from cigarettes, cell phones, and, you guessed it, static electricity! Though rare, static electric has caused fires at gas stations pumps, according to a study by the American Petroleum Institute and the Petroleum Equipment Institute.

Dangerous Sparks

It happens often enough that these two organizations were able to include 150 cases in their study. They found that almost all of their cases involved a person getting back into their vehicle after putting the nozzle in their car, then getting back out again once the gasoline was finished pumping. This is because getting in and out of the car repeatedly allows the charges to build up, as surfaces like clothing and the car’s interior come into contact with each other.

Interestingly, the study also found that almost all the people involved in fires caused by static electricity were female. When paired with the earlier information, this suggests that female drivers are more likely to get back in their car. There could be many explanations for this, but one possible explanation is that women feel less safe than men do while pumping gas, and may choose to get back into their vehicle to avoid a mugging, assault, or another violence attack.

Safety at the Pump

Static electricity fires are relatively rare, but they are something to be aware as the weather cools down. To stay safe at the pump, here are some other helpful tips:

  • While pumping gas, turn off your vehicle engine and any other sources of ignition, like an attached camper or cooking lights
  • Never smoke, light matches, or use a lighter when at a pump
  • Do not talk on your cell phone while pumping gas
  • Only use the refueling latch on the gasoline dispenser nozzle
  • Avoid re-entering your vehicle while pumping gas; if you have to get back into your car, discharge any static build-up by touching something metal, like your car’s doors, with a bare hand before touching the nozzle again
  • If a fire occurs, leave the nozzle in the fill pipe, get away from the vehicle, and get help immediately

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The attorneys at Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes represent those involved in car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and other types of personal injury matters. Our firm is one of the oldest personal injury law firms in Tampa Bay. There are no attorneys’ fees or costs unless we prevail for you. Call our office 24 hours a day at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.

 

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